Are meat or plant-based proteins better to build muscle? Science weighs in

A new study examines how to build muscle with both plant-based and animal proteins

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It's an age-old question asked by a lot of people, especially those thinking about turning vegetarian and worrying about their protein intake. Protein is commonly known as the building block of muscle, with celebrity diets full of lean meats, fish, peas, beans and other legumes, helping their followers to tone up and develop their strength. 

However, are meat and other animal products like milk and eggs, really the best way to build muscle? One study, published by The Physiological Society, sought to find out. Researchers from King's College London looked at participants who ingested wheat and soy-based proteins compared to those who ate protein sourced from animal products. 

Blood samples and skeletal muscle measurements showed muscles were building up more quickly in the group that ate animal protein. The soy and wheat-based proteins still built significant amount of muscle, but not quite on the scale as animal products. 

However, don't take this as a ringing endorsement that vegetarians and vegans should put down their forks and pick up a spare rib. Only two types of plant-based protein were actually tested, leaving plenty of sources such as pea protein and legumes like beans untested against animal protein. 

Vitamin D foods

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Plant-based proteins are also still very good at building muscle: given the increased risk of cancer faced by people who eat lots of red meat, and especially processed meats like bacon and sausages, it's worth getting your protein from a combination of animal and plant sources. 

If you're using protein shakes, you don't have to stick with whey powder, although it's certainly the most common: you can also find plenty of vegan-friendly powders on the market. 

Nature's Best Plant-Based Vegan Protein Powder by Isopure | now $24.99 at Amazon

Nature's Best Plant-Based Vegan Protein Powder by Isopure | now $24.99 at Amazon
An organic, keto friendly, low carb, gluten free powder for your shakes, with 20g protein in every scoop. Sourced from pea and brown rice proteins, the shake comes in chocolate, strawberry, unflavoured and vanilla.  

However, those who aren't vegetarians can continue to get the highest-quality protein in from animal products like milk, eggs, chicken breasts, oily fish and some red meats, save in the knowledge they're building muscle in the best way available to them. 

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Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.